Protecting rights of migrant workers: Upholding ICMW  

MS Siddiqui     | Published: February 10, 2019 21:47:27 | Updated: February 13, 2019 22:27:56

People of poorer countries move to developed countries for better livelihood, socioeconomic condition and shelter. They migrate to other countries through both official and unofficial channels. In worst circumstances like war, civil strife, ethnic conflict, violations of human rights or other situations, some citizens are forced to leave their homeland and become refugees in other countries. The statuses of refugee and expatriates are not the same. Refugee is anyone who is forced to leave his or her country for various man-made or natural disasters while expatriate is anyone living in another country for employment purposes.

In article 2(1) of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICMW), 1990 by the UN, a migrant worker is defined as 'a person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national'. The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (the Refugee Convention) of 1951 defines refugee as any person who is "outside their country of origin and unable or unwilling to return there or to avail themselves of its protection, on account of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular group, or political opinion."

There are about 10 million Bangladeshi migrants working in different countries especially in Middle East (ME). According to latest data released by the Bangladesh Bank, Bangladeshi expatriates remitted $14.98 billion in the fiscal year 2017-18.

According to United Nations figures, there are approximately 200 million international migrants in the world. This is barely 3.0 per cent of the world population. Migrants contribute annually an estimated USD 2.0 trillion to the economies of the countries in which they work.

Remittances of Bangladeshi migrants contribute nearly 11 per cent of the country's annual gross domestic product (GDP). Remittances provide significant support to the balance of payments and also help stimulate the economy and alleviate poverty from the country. Bangladesh is naturally concerned about their migrant workers as the latter play an important role in the socioeconomic development of the country.

Host countries may have reasons to welcome migrants as well. This is due to shortages of labour force and of native workers' reluctance to perform specific jobs. These can be termed as '3D (dirty, demanding and dangerous) jobs'. These jobs are usually in the construction, real estate sectors or domestic services. The strenuous tasks in these sectors are usually done by poor migrants who hail from across the world. The working condition, wages etc are not favourable for migrant workers in other countries.

There are global concerns regarding the situation. UN and human rights-promoting organisations are working hard to improve the employment process and working condition of migrant workers. At present the international legal framework for the protection of human rights of migrants is significantly broad. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has two Conventions aimed at protecting migrant workers: Conventions 97 (1949) and 143 (1975).

Moreover, a number of international treaties have provisions that protect the rights of all men, irrespective of their citizenship. These include the six main human rights treaties adopted by the United Nations from 1965 to 1989, as well as the founding document which served as a matrix for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948.

These human rights treaties are: (a) The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD, adopted in 1965); (b) The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR, 1966); (c) The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR, 1966); (d) The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, 1979); (e) The Convention against Torture, and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment(CAT, 1984); and (f) The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 1989).

The landmark convention of UN is the 'International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICMW)'. It was adopted in 1990 and was entered into force on July 01, 2003 after the threshold of 20 ratifying States was reached. Bangladesh signed the convention in 1998. Unfortunately, only 51 States have ratified it and, most notably, no important Western destination and Middle Eastern country has done so.

The objectives of ICMW are: to increase labour standards and lessen the downward pressure resulting from competition between national and foreign workers and protecting rights of migrants and local workers. The Convention has recognised all the categories of migrants-irregular migrants, trafficked migrants, migrant women.

At the same time, the emphasis on human rights, and not solely labour rights, is crucial in terms of the protection of migrants who are not active on the labour market or whose presence is only partly related to their working capacity. The ICMW has given emphasis on rights of the 'members of the families' of migrant workers and also rights of illegal migrants.

The Convention has established a treaty monitoring body, made up of 10 independent experts "of high moral standing, impartiality and recognised competence in the field covered by the Convention" (Art. 72). This Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW) examines the initial and periodic reports submitted by each State Party. The Convention explicitly refers to the possibility for the Committee to "invite the specialised agencies and organs of the UN, as well as intergovernmental organisations and other concerned bodies to submit written information" (Art.74). In its deliberations, it can thus consider comments and materials provided by the International Labour Organisation (Art. 74).

ICMW is for more liberal immigration policies. It does not propose any new set of rights that would be specific to migrants. It only ensures that human rights are properly applied to migrant workers. Bangladesh, along with other countries, should promote ICMW in Middle Eastern countries in order to protect the rights of migrant workers

M S Siddiqui is a legal economist.


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